Vox Tablet

An Atheist for Religion

In Religion for Atheists, Alain de Botton urges nonbelievers to pick and choose religions’ best offerings

May 29, 2012
(Photoillustration Tablet Magazine; original photo Shutterstock)

(Photoillustration Tablet Magazine; original photo Shutterstock)

Essayist and philosopher-for-the-masses Alain de Botton is best known for How Proust Can Change Your Life, in which he plumbs Remembrance of Things Past for lessons on how to live a more fulfilling life. De Botton has also written books on love, travel, and architecture. In his newest book, Religion for Atheists, de Botton tackles religion. Here he argues that, in rejecting religion wholesale, atheists are unnecessarily depriving themselves of world religions’ prodigious cultural, spiritual, and ethical offerings. His “pick and choose” approach to religion–rejecting central tenets like, say, a belief in God, while borrowing concepts like Judaism’s Day of Atonement–will surely rub some believers the wrong way. But de Botton is addressing a different audience, including many self-identified “cultural Jews” whose ignorance of Judaism he laments. London-based reporter Hugh Levinson spoke to de Botton in London about his own religious background (or lack thereof), the possibility of being religious without having faith, and how the secular world holds on to the memory of religious tyranny while it ignores the religious world’s ability to transmit knowledge.

Here’s their conversation. [Running time: 18:53.]

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